The Church at Philadelphia: Part 1 of 4 (series: Lessons on Revelations)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

Commentary on the Book of Revelation

By: Tom Lowe Date: 6-19-15

Topic # II Letters to the Seven Churches of Asia (2:1-3:22))

Lesson: II.F: The Church at Philadelphia (3:7-13)

Revelation 3:7-13 (NIV)

7“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.
8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.
9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you.
10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test the inhabitants of the earth.
11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.
12 The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.
13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.


The city of Philadelphia was twenty-five miles south of Sardis. It was named for its founder, Attalus Philadelphus, who was king of Pergamos. It was on the edge of a great volcanic plain bearing the marks of lava, and the ashes of volcanoes then extinct. Such land is fertile; and Philadelphia was the center of a great grape-growing area and a famous producer of wines. But that situation had its perils, and these perils had left their mark more deeply on Philadelphia than on any other city. In A.D. 17 there was a great earthquake which destroyed Sardis and ten other cities. In Philadelphia, the tremors went on for years.

Today the city is named Allah Shehr, meaning “City of God,” and it’s populated largely by Greeks (there are approximately 15,000 there). The remains of early Christian influences are more clearly seen today in this than in any of the other cities in Asia where the seven churches were located. The ruins of twenty-five churches can be found there, and marble pillars—the remains of great churches—can be a plainly seen. No doubt these marble columns are the remains of pillars that were there even in John’s day or shortly thereafter.

The city of Philadelphia continued longer than any of the other cities named by John, and was the last Christian city to surrender to the Turks. When the Turks and Mohammedanism flooded across Asia Minor and every other town had fallen, Philadelphia stood erect. For centuries it was a free Greek Christian city amidst a pagan people. It was the last bastion of Asian Christianity. It was not till midway through the fourteenth century that it fell; and to this day there is a Christian bishop and 1000 Christians in it. With the exception of Smyrna, the other churches are in ruins but Philadelphia still holds aloft the banner of the Christian faith.

The name “Philadelphia” means brotherly love. Brotherly love is a distinct characteristic of the household of God—“Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household” (Ephesians 2:19). Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another” (John 13:35).

7“To the angel of the church in Philadelphia write: These are the words of him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.

The Messenger to the CHURCH IN PHILADELPHIA identifies Himself by saying, “THESE ARE THE WORDS OF HIM WHO IS HOLY AND TRUE.” These are divine attributes. (Read Hosea 11:9; Jeremiah 10:10; Revelation 4:8; 1 Thessalonian’s 1:9; Isaiah 6:3; 1 John 5:20.) Deity is delivering the message to the church of brotherly love.

Holiness is an essential attribute of deity. In the Old Testament Jehovah refers to Himself as “the Holy One” (Isaiah 40:25). On a number of occasions, He said, “I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). Jesus quite naturally says it, and rightly so, for He is “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26). Peter testified of Him as the One “Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth” (1 Peter 2:22). Holiness is what Christ is in Himself, in His essential character. This is tantamount to declaring that He is God, which, of course, He is. Jesus Christ is “HOLY” in His character, His words, His actions, and His purposes. As the Holy One, He is uniquely

set apart from everything else, and nothing can be compared to Him. Because He is holy, every word He ever spoke and everything he ever did was perfect.

But He is also the One who is “TRUE”—that is, genuine. He is the original, not a copy; the authentic God and not a manufactured one. There were hundreds of false gods and goddesses in those days (1 Corinthians 8:5-61), but only Jesus Christ could rightfully claim to be the true God.

The Messenger is further identified by the words, “HIM . . . WHO HOLDS THE KEY OF DAVID.” “HIM,” in this case, is the Lord Jesus Christ. For Christ to hold the key of David means that He has the authority to open the door to His future kingdom. This alludes to an event recorded in Isaiah 22:15-25 when the official position of secretary of state in Judea was taken from Shebna and given to Eliakim. God through Isaac said to Eliakim: “I will give him the key to the house of David—the highest position in the royal court. He will open doors, and no one will be able to shut them; he will close doors, and no one will be able to open them” (Isaiah 22:22, NLT). Christ holds absolute power and authority over entrance into His future kingdom. After the door is opened, no one can shut it—salvation is assured. Once it is shut, no one can open it—judgment is certain. “Jesus is also the One who holds the keys of hell and of death—“I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). Jesus gave Peter the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven, and Peter used those keys to open the Kingdom of Heaven to the Jews on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). He again used the keys to open the door of salvation by grace to the Gentiles, in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10). Peter has been dead for a long time, and now the keys are back in the hands of Christ and He has left these doors open—therefore the keys of the Kingdom are mentioned no more. Since the door of the Kingdom has not been closed, it does not need to be opened in these modern days by a pope, a priest, a bishop, a preacher nor an evangelist. The door is open to “whosoever will.”

Notice that there are three great titles given to the Risen Christ in verse seven—(1) He is He who is “HOLY”; (2) He is He who is “TRUE”; (3) He is He “WHO HOLDS THE KEY OF DAVID, WHAT HE OPENS NO ONE CAN SHUT, AND WHAT HE SHUTS NO ONE CAN OPEN.”

8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.

The One delivering the message to the church in Philadelphia is the One who opens—and no man shuts; shuts; and no man opens. This is the door of service, not of salvation. “SEE, I HAVE PLACED BEFORE YOU AN OPEN DOOR.” (Read Acts 14:27; 1 Corinthians 16:9; 2 Corinthians 2:12). Jesus has the key that opens the door of service. Who would dare question His authority to open that door—or to close it? His authority is final and overwhelming. I suggest to you that the door that our Lord is speaking of is the door of missionary opportunity. Writing to the Corinthians of the work which lies ahead of him, Paul says: “For a wide door for effective work has opened to me” (1 Corinthians 16:9). When he came to Troas, a door was opened to him by the Lord (2 Corinthians 2:12). He asks the Colossians to pray that a door of utterance may be opened for him (Colossians 4:3). When he came back to Antioch he told how GOD had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles (Acts 14:27).

As in the letters to the other churches, Christ stated here that he knew their “DEEDS”— I KNOW YOUR DEEDS”—yet he had no words of rebuke for the believers. The church may have been small (“YOU HAVE LITTLE STRENGTH”) and may have had little impact upon the city, but it had obeyed and had not denied God; alluding to some particular occasion when her faithfulness was put to the test. They had been faithful in a difficult area. Although Christ accepts a “LITTLE STRENGTH,” yet believers must not rest satisfied with a little, but strive to grow in grace, to be strong in faith, giving glory to God. Actually, the little strength they possessed became the source of Almighty power and led them to rest wholly on His power. I do not read that our Lord’s followers were ever in the numerical majority. Abraham had just 318 men when he defeated the armies of four Kings (Genesis 14:14-16). Gideon and his band of 300 put to route a whole army of Midianites (Judges 7:19-23). Elijah on God’s side was more than a match for the 450 prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18:21-40).

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